Christmas is almost here and I think that it is an appropriate time to talk about how we, as photographers, have a duty to capture special moments. How do you do it? Many photographers employ a “spray and pray” kind of approach. Or, they do “trophy photography.” Both of these things mean that the photographer takes tons and tons of photographs, hoping that by sheer random chance, they got the one that made it all worthwhile.
This can be a valid way to create an artistic photograph. However, it can turn into to a whole lot of work, always burst firing, and accumulating a vast trove of images to evaluate. I think in the end, you are missing out on the ability to train your artistic eye. In my opinion, it is far better to wait, and to learn how to capture those special moments as they happen, rather than rapid firing your way through as many frames as possible, hoping that just one turns out well.
To that end, let’s discuss a few different types of photography. You’ll see that in each type, there are similarities and there are differences, but for every genre, there is a method that will help you capture the moment.
At Christmastime, many photographers find themselves taking family photos around the Christmas tree. If you plan to do the same, then you’ll definitely want to try candid photography. Candid photography is all about capturing the moment. You are taking a photo of a person as they are engaged in an activity, and the entire point is to not disturb their activity, but to instead record the emotions that they experience without interfering.
Think about it this way: Which photo is better? The photo of a child opening his or her Christmas present? Or the photo that you take five minutes after the event is over, when you ask the child to hold up his or her present so you can take a snapshot? In my opinion, the first photo will almost always be the better one because you have not interfered in any way with the scene. You are capturing the real joy and happiness that the child is experiencing as they tear apart the wrapping paper. The end result is less contrived and more meaningful.
Capturing the moment in candid photography requires two things. You need to be able to wait and watch, until you judge the time is right to take the image. You’ll also need to make a sacrifice. In the example I used, instead of sharing in the child’s joy, you removed yourself from the scene so that you could study it. Instead of simply sitting back and enjoying the moment, you were reaching for your camera, thinking of settings and what angle to shoot from. In the end, however, it is a sacrifice that is worth it to create a meaningful, lasting image, I think.
Similarly to candid photography, capturing a moment in nature requires patience. Waiting for the right light, or for the breeze to die down so that leaves stop moving. Or, waiting for the breeze to bend blades of grass in a certain direction.
The difference here is that the waiting can take a lot more time. You may spend hours, days or weeks waiting to capture a wildlife image. Perhaps you want to photograph a deer standing a certain way, but no matter how many days you wait for him, he just doesn’t seem to be showing up. Or maybe you are waiting for an eagle to land on a particular tree, but every time you spot him, he isn’t at a good vantage point.
In addition, you’ll need to get to know your subjects, particularly wildlife. What are their habits, or where are the places they visit most often? Can you capture them eating, frolicking or doing some other interesting thing? Patience and knowledge of the animals and objects you are photographing will help you to capture the moment.
Sports and events — airshows, historical reenactments and so forth — are less about patience and more about anticipating the moment. The action is happening pretty quickly, you won’t have long to wait, but you will need to understand enough about the event to know when something interesting might happen so that you can document it properly. Get a program or leaflet to learn about the event and what things will be happening at each point in time. Or, if you are photographing a sport, then learn how the sport is played, if you don’t know already.
This way, you’ll be able to anticipate when reenactors will be firing their muskets so that you can capture that moment before the smoke clears. Learn about football, and you’ll be able to see when a player attempts a touchdown run. You’ll be able to anticipate the winning moment and capture it before it is too late.
There are many, many more types of photography to explore and each has its own unique special moments waiting to be captured. If you enjoy photographing food, for instance, then photograph it while the steam still rises from a hot platter. Photograph flowers before the morning dew dries away, and take photos of the night sky when the stars are shining bright. In most cases, you’ll need to wait for the moment, but when you aren’t waiting, you’ll need to anticipate instead.
Learning to do this — to capture the moment — is one of the most important things that you’ll learn as a photographer. Yes, some of us do like to shoot several consecutive frames rapidly, and that is a valuable tool in certain instances. However, I prefer not to rely on that method and instead would rather learn to watch for those moments that can make a photograph truly special.